Gig review: Prince, Auditorium Stravinski, Montreux Jazz Festival


When Prince comes to the Montreux Jazz Festival, all bets are off. On his third visit to the Swiss Riviera for the 47th edition of the event, he was given carte blanche over three consecutive, sold-out evenings and appeared determined to cover as many bases as possible.

The first concert saw the purple wonder offer a potted history of the soul and funk that inspired him and might explain the afro he is currently sporting. A spur of the moment performer who can turn on a dime, literally and metaphorically, he covered James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan before delivering an unscheduled second encore of ''Purple Rain'' with the house lights on as the rapturously received payback. The second night featured more crowd-pleasers, including ''Raspberry Beret'' and ''Nothing Compares 2 U'', the Sinéad O'Connor signature song Prince composed and first recorded with The Family, one of his many side-projects.

Indeed, Prince has never been afraid of letting his feminine side show through, as he proved when collaborating with the Bangles or Apollonia 6. However, no one was quite prepared for the European debut of 3rdeyegirl, his new rock group, which took up the lion's share of the third show. Sure, Donna Grantis is a guitar virtuoso – and seems to have shown Prince how to play with his left leg over the neck of the instrument – but drummer Hannah Ford does not pack as much power as Sheila E while bassist Ida Nielsen suffered when Larry Graham, the Sly & the Family Stone veteran who originated the slapping technique, took over during the finale. Other restless geniuses like Bob Dylan and Todd Rundgren mess with their repertoire, and Prince channels Jimi Hendrix better than anyone, yet 3rdeyegirl's take on ''Let's Go Crazy'' smacked of David Bowie's Tin Machine and the power ballad arrangement of ''I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man'' didn't work.

The recurring appearances of Joshua Welton on cowbell and a riff on Wild Cherry's ''Play That Funky Music'' felt like jokes taken too far. Still, when Prince sat down at the piano for a heartstopping ''Sometimes It Snows In April'', normal, falsetto soul service was resumed. A 'sampler set' seguing ''When Doves Cry'', ''Sign O' The Times'' and the apposite ''A Love Bizarre'' saw the New Power Generation horns return en masse to join dozens of dancing fans on stage. It fell somewhat short of the high standards set by Funky Claude Nobs, the founder of the festival, who died in January. Prince has not quite replaced Deep Purple as the act most people associate with Montreux.